The briefness of this review does not do justice to the importance of Stuck Rubber Baby in the history of graphic literature, but I find it difficult to talk about without divulging crucial plot elements. I will say however that it won the Eisner Award (the comic book equivalent of the Oscar) for best Graphic Album, and was nominated for both the American Library Association’s Gay and Lesbian Book Award and the Lambda Literary Award.
This story is set in Alabama during the early Sixties, and follows the life of Toland Polk, a white gay man who comes out to himself and others at the same time that he is becoming involved in the civil rights movement. Although based on the real life experiences of creator Howard Cruse (and others), he has embellished it enough to classify it as a work of “fiction.”
One of the greatest aspects of the book, for me, was the two words on the cover that described Stuck Rubber Baby as simply “a novel.” Of all the “graphic” novels I have read, no matter how well they were crafted or how much I enjoyed them, none left me feeling so much as though I had just finished a “real” book as this one did. Besides the obvious factor of Cruse’s artistic and literary talent, I think this was due to the fact that Stuck Rubber Baby was written as a novel instead of being released in installments which were later collected in a book, and that it was rendered in black and white, lending it the same air of authority as more highly regarded works that make use solely of the written word. Ultimately, however, the personal insights into a seldom seen aspect of the civil rights movement’s history shared in this work are most effecting precisely because of their presentation through the unique and powerful medium of comics.